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George Eliot Introduction

What George Eliot did... and why you should care

Which of the following is true about George Eliot?

a) Eliot was called England's greatest living novelist.
b) Eliot was a woman.
c) Eliot was embroiled in one of the most scandalous love triangles in Victorian England.

The correct answer, of course, is d) all of the above. George Eliot – the pen name of the woman born as Mary Anne Evans – was said to be the greatest living English novelist of her time. Eliot is still considered one of the finest writers in English literature. She was also considered a "fallen woman" due to her 25-year relationship with George Henry Lewes, a married literary critic. Eventually, however, people were so curious to see what Eliot would write next that they forgot they were supposed to be shunning her.

Novels like Middlemarch, Silas Marner, and The Mill on the Floss were beloved by readers for their realistic portrayal of life's complexities. Eliot refused to succumb to melodrama or stereotype. Having confronted life's challenges herself, Eliot understood how complicated and messy the business of living could be. By the time she died, the former social pariah was one of the wealthiest and most popular women in England. Even Princess Louise introduced herself to Eliot as a fan of her work – and let her know that her mother, Queen Victoria, also loved her books.

Mary Anne Evans was born 22 November 1819, just six months after Queen Victoria. Several scholars have pointed out that the two women lived complementary lives. Victoria was the standard of decorum; Eliot was the standard of indecency. Victoria made rules, and Eliot broke them. Victoria and her daughters were fans of Eliot's novels, and Eliot was indelibly shaped by Victoria's England. Victoria outlived Eliot, who died in 1880 at the age of 61. However, they both left their mark on history.

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